Combatants for Peace and The Shiministin

At the beginning of our trip the interns met with representatives from the organizations Combatants for Peace and The Shiministin. Combatants for Peace was founded in 2006; the organization offers IDF soldiers and Palestinian militants an alternative to using violence to achieve political ends. The Shiministin are a group of Israeli high school refuseniks who refuse to serve in the IDF.

Combatants for Peace:
We heard testimonies from a Palestinian named Wael Salam and an Israeli Jew named Itomar. Salam was arrested back in 1973, during the Yom Kippur war, for allegedly throwing stones in Israel’s northern industrial area. He says that he was walking by a factory while Palestinians were throwing rocks through windows and was not participating in the disobedience. Later that day, the IDF surrounded his school and arrested him. He sat in an Israeli jail cell, without trial, for an extensive amount of time (I think he said years but his English wasn’t clear). He joined Fatah during the 2nd Intifada and was caught attempting to detonate a car bomb in retaliation of an Israeli massacre. After his prison sentence was completed he met Itomar, who showed him that violence only provoked Israel and hurt the chances of a lasting peace.

Itomar was born in Tel Aviv, into a military family. His father was a pilot, his brother was a pilot and his other brother was a commando in an elite combat unit. He was raised a Zionist and explained that the Nazi Holocaust and past Jewish suffering heavily shaped his identity. He read books about the Nazi Holocaust and had a strong desire to reinstall the Jewish state. He was able to temporarily escape his blind nationalism during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which he viewed as inherently wrong. After the war he continued to serve in the Israeli military but had a new found respect for the Palestinians.

He soon became a commander in the Israeli armed forces and engaged in operations against “bad guys” who carried out attacks on Israelis during the 2nd intifada. During a patrol, he and his unit opened fire on Palestinians in a jeep because they refused to stop for them. 5 Palestinians were killed. He remembers that he felt no doubt, asked no questions and his body was pumping with adrenaline.

After his service he went into a state of deep depression and self-denial regarding his behavior in the IDF. Once he got back on his feet he helped to found “Breaking the Silence” (Israeli veterans against the occupation). The main conclusion he derived from his service is that the occupation is the root of the conflict. He now believes that non-violent resistance (within Israel and Palestine), in tandem with increased international pressure on Israel, will be necessary to resist the occupation and give the Palestinians a viable state.

Edit: While we were sitting by the Western Wall, Itomar told me that when IDF soldiers are initiated they receive the Torah in one hand and a battle rifle in the other. His entire family was present and were all extremely proud of him. He laughed and shook his head while recalling the experience.

Two young women, Maya and Sahar, talked about their decision to refuse compulsory Israeli military service. I was incredibly impressed and moved by these young ladies. By refusing to serve in the Israeli military these women marginalized themselves in a society where compulsory military service is never questioned.

In Israel, men are required to serve 3 years in the military and women are required to serve 2 years. During their senior year of high school, the refuseniks write letters to the Ministry of Defense announcing their decision to refuse service. On the day of the draft they do not show up for duty and are sent to military prison. After the completion of their sentences, the Israeli government attempts to draft them again. A total of 10 seniors refused to serve this year (7 women and 3 men) and they had the support of over 200 students. They reject military service because they don’t think the government should make important life decisions for them and because military service feeds the occupation of Palestine. The Israeli government doesn’t recognize the rejection of military service for political reasons. Eventually the Shiministin are flagged with ‘mental health’ problems and are not forced into service. The status of ‘conscientious objector’ can only be achieved if you claim a universal pacifist. Disapproval of Israeli colonization and occupation is considered to be a mental health disorder by the government. They each served prison sentences of 2 months.

The two women acknowledged that they were marginalized by their peers and family members for their decision. The social consequences of being a refusenik in Israel are enormous. One of the girls, Sahar, grew up in a radical leftist family, so questioning the policies of her government was was ingrained in her from a young age. It was interesting to hear Maya’s story, who didn’t question the system around her for most of her life. She grew up in a Zionist family in Jerusalem and witnessed a bus bombing during the 2nd Intifada. She asked herself why people were willing to blow themselves up for political reasons. She also heard stories of soldiers acting immorally and joined groups where she could discuss the internal politics of her society. She concluded that the occupation and land annexation were indefensible.

Talk about courage.


One Response to “Combatants for Peace and The Shiministin”

  1. Deb83 Says:

    I was just reading Uri Avnery in Counterpunch.
    He made the point that ultimately in the Israeli military that is set up as an Occupation force to oppress the Palestininians “a process of natural selection takes place. People of discrimination, with a high moral standard, who detest such actions, leave sooner or later. Their place is taken by other types, people of different values or no values at all, “professional soldiers” who “just follow orders”.
    In this scenerio, people with any conscience will have a difficult time. I am glad there are some questioning the status quo. I am reminded by something I read in Howard Zinn’s book about the south during segregation. He said we can be surprised by how fast things can change. Attitudes and policies that seemed to be unmovable, can shift very quickly. Each person that takes a stand against the inhumane Occupation will help bring about its demise.

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